There is something very exciting about this spring. I’m looking forward to seeing my favorite garden centers fill up with all kinds of fresh new plants. From colorful annuals for some of the patio pots to colorful conifers for around the overall landscape and for use in patio containers.
You know I love the miniature and dwarf conifers and it’s always a thrill to discover what new items are arriving at the local garden center. One plant on my list is a very new introduction to the nursery trade. Some lucky folks were able to pre-order early release plants through membership in the American Conifer Society.
The society annually selects a couple of conifers as their Collector’s Conifers of the Year and Thuja occidentalis Primo™ (‘IslPrim’) was one selected for 2017. I don’t expect to find this “primo” little plant yet, but I am certainly going to keep my eyes open at every garden center I visit!
Primo™ originated out of a batch of Thuja occidentalis ‘Zmatlik’ seedlings. ‘Zmatlik’ has dense, unusually coarse textured foliage on a narrow, medium-fast growing tree. It is very useful as a garden screen and is hardy into Zone 3! Primo™ was selected out of thousands of seedlings due to its very coarse and curious foliage. Over the years of pre-release observation, it was noted that with a small amount of pruning, Primo™ could be very easily maintained as a narrow, small spire. When left to grow naturally, each individual plant will grow very slowly into its own sculptural form.
I am so excited about this new introduction—even if I need to wait another year, this cool little conifer will be worth the wait, and I will very likely have just the right place prepared for it to be planted.
We have just recently returned to Pacific Standard Time with our clocks falling back an hour, and even though I have allegedly gained an hour of sleep, I am already feeling the effect of shorter daylight hours. I love the summer when the sun usually wakes me up around 5:30am and finally puts me to rest after 9:30pm. Those long, bright days are truly energizing. Our recent Fall Back, hit me like a ton of topsoil and I’ve been dragging through the past couple of days.
Then, today it hit me—it’s time to start making plans for holiday decorating!
I love to make wreaths, and my wife loves hanging them both indoors and out! We recently made some major progress in organizing our garage which resulted in my having a place for my, “You’re not going to make a mess in my house” projects like holiday wreath making, candle making, whittling and carving. That is perfectly okay with me, now that I have a nice warm space to work on my projects.
One of my first projects will certainly be making wreaths for the holiday season. Conifers are perfect for this craft because of their very wide-ranging assortment of foliage colors, textures, and even their scents. One of the comments I hear when folks visit during the holidays is how fresh and “Christmasy” the house smells. I’m certain that conifers play a big role in those comments (as well as my wife’s “Swill” she has warming on the stove through the holidays).
I love to create my wreaths with an assortment of conifer foliage. I will often begin with something simple like our native, dark green, Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir) or the glossy green sprays of Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar) or Calocedrus decurrens (Incense Cedar). As I work my way around the wreath, the real fun begins as I begin to include other complimentary and/or contrasting color elements.
If you have never made your own wreath before, I want to encourage you to take the time. It is a very fun and relaxing (even meditative) project that yields tons of smiles and happiness in those who visit. I always make several and give a few away to neighbors and loved ones. It’s always fun to spread the cheer!
Yes, now that I have fresh new wreath-making ideas flowing, my back seems to hurt a little less and I seem to have a spring to my step that has been missing for several days. Thanks to the therapeutic power of conifers!
This summer has been one of the most consistently wonderful weather-wise in my memory. I do have faint memories of when I was a young fella, swimming almost daily in our neighbor’s pool from at least early July through the Labor Day weekend – and that was way back in the early 1960s. I didn’t care much for the cold water of an unheated pool, so at least one summer, way back when, must have been similar to this year with day after day of sunny and warm weather.
Our spring began on time this year and we have enjoyed bumper crops in our raised bed vegetable garden. I’ll even be harvesting a water melon soon (which is very rare in this area – at least for me)! With great crops of peas, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, basil and tomatoes, we have enjoyed heart-healthy eating all summer.
Our deck is alive with over 30 dwarf conifer and flower-filled containers. These warm summer evenings have been enjoyed snuggled with my beloved wife as we have listened to frogs, crickets and the occasional coyote serenade the otherwise quiet evenings, gazing at the stars or reading our books.
New construction of the larger garden has been very slow this season and I have achieved far less than I had hoped early on. But, life happens and I have found it to be much less stressful to go with the flow of what life presents to you rather than insist on being the one in control. Steadily working through the challenges as they arise, we have made some strides in achieving our garden transforming goals. Not rushing into some of my landscape projects has allowed me to get to know the property a little more and I have made adjustments to my original plans.
In the meantime, we have enjoyed visiting other gardens and absorbed all kinds of ideas and inspiration to apply to our new garden space. Please enjoy these inspirational photos from the display gardens at Iseli Nursery!
Since moving into our new neighborhood, my wife and I have enjoyed taking regular walks. Not only is the activity very heart-healthy (and insisted upon by my wife) but it is actually quite enjoyable. Our neighborhood includes two city parks within its borders and is tucked away between two major creeks that feed the local river.
Since moving here, I have noticed that most folks walking through the neighborhood tend to walk out in the street, which is fine since there isn’t a lot of traffic, but being a safety conscious citizen, I have always believed the miles of sidewalks installed in our city were put in place for a reason. Now that I am an avid pedestrian in our neighborhood, I understand why so many folks prefer the street: Poor landscape design planning and/or maintenance.
Our neighborhood is about 30 years old, so I suspect that most of the landscapes are close to that age here as well. That means all those nice little plants that looked so cute in the front yard, along the sidewalk, are largely overgrown and many of them obstruct the way for comfortable pedestrian travel. You might imagine my narrative (which my wife patiently endured) as we walked those first view adventures through the neighborhood, was filled with my expert opinion regarding well-designed landscaping and the intelligent use of dwarf conifers.
Much to my surprise and frustration, on the return trip to our home, I discovered that the large Colorado Blue Spruce planted in the front corner of our property was partially obscuring our freedom to pass by on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help but to think of several, slower growing alternatives that would have been far greater choices to plant in this location (see below*).
The following day, I gathered my three-legged orchard ladder and a collection of pruning tools; my hand pruners held at my hip by a holster on my belt, my large loppers, two sizes of pruning saws and my electric chainsaw on a stick (which has proved to be one of the handiest tools I have ever used) and I made my way out to the large tree.
Ordinarily, I would shudder at the thought of disfiguring a beautiful conifer in this fashion…
Looking the tree over, I could see that the previous caregiver of the landscape had been shearing the sidewalk side of this tree for a number of years as it was a very compact congestion of branches and foliage from ground level to just above my head. As I circled the tree, its natural, more open habit was evident, and it was in this loose branching that I made my approach to begin the job of limbing the tree up above my head, all around its trunk. Ordinarily, I would shudder at the thought of disfiguring a beautiful conifer in this fashion, but frankly, it is just the first step in the eventual total removal of the tree that is overgrown for the space in which it was planted.
Several hours later, I stood in the street, sweat pouring down my face, needles, pitch and other tree debris decorating my work clothes as I inspected the job I had just completed. I noticed a neighbor, walking his three dogs, strolling on the sidewalk in my direction. I became pleased with myself that I had done the good deed of clearing the way for them so that they could walk, safely, and without obstruction on the sidewalk in front of my house.
I walked closer to my front yard, which was now 80% covered with piles of the branches that I had removed from the tree, thinking that the fun part of my job was over. I was looking for my large insulated bottle of iced tea and was planning to sit on the front steps and rest. As I sat, looking through the piles of branches and seeing the opened up front yard, I began to imagine the transformation that would take place. I visualized widening and lengthening the two planting beds that now exist.
Imagining the expanded planting space, my mind became occupied with the incredibly large number of choices available to me in designing this new front yard space. I became excited at the thought of dusting off the rototiller to begin turning old lawn grass into lush mounds of soil for planting all kinds of exciting colorful conifers…
But first, I need to properly dispose of these huge piles of spruce branches…
PS. *Here are some better choices for this same garden space. All of these conifers are slower growing and/or have a smaller footprint than the seedling spruce I will be replacing. Which would be your choice for this prime corner spot in the front garden? Let me know in the comments.
The Garden Bug has bit me early this year and I am very anxious and excited to get going on the new garden! I must admit, though, having to wait to begin breaking the soil and getting serious about working in my new garden is good… or bad, depending on one’s perspective. Although I do have some definite ideas and plans about how I will design my new garden spaces – both the strictly ornamental area and the productive, food producing area – the longer I wait to begin, the more opportunity I have to make changes. Which, as I said, can be good or bad.
“Hey Ed!” He greeted, “What do a dwarf and a miniature conifer have in common?”
From my perspective, allowing my imagination to flow is always a good thing, so changing my plan as new ideas form is quite fun. On the other hand, if I do not stick to a definite plan, I’ll never make any progress when I can finally break ground. One of the great things about the way I approach gardening is that nothing is forever. I can always move things around if I need to as the garden grows and matures. At this stage in my life, I think it would be best to have a good plan to begin with since I don’t have as many years in my future to make changes as I did 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago. I am inclined to be more content with my garden layout so that I can spend my time enjoying the space rather than continually changing and re-working it.
So, although I do have some definite plans for the general layout of my new garden, I remain open to be flexible regarding many of the exact plants I will use in the design. For example, I took advantage of the amazingly spring-like weather in Boring, Oregon today and decided I would absorb some inspiration from my friends at Iseli Nursery by strolling through the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden. Thankfully, my long-time association with the folks there, I can pop in to get updates on what is new in the nursery trade.
As I arrived at the front desk to check in, I was stopped by one of the enthusiastic CSRs who happened to be walking by on his way to… well, wherever.
“Hey Ed!” He greeted, “What do a dwarf and a miniature conifer have in common?”
My eyes rolled up a bit as I began to think about some specific characteristics of common dwarf and miniature conifers. Growth rate was the first thing to come to mind, but also often times they may share smaller needles size and certainly more compact growth…
Not really wanting an answer he said, “Very little.” and continued on his way around the corner with his “hehehehe” fading the further he proceeded.
I thought for sure I heard the typical thump of a drum and cymbal crash (ba-dum, crash) often associated with comedic one-liners.
I smiled, and as I turned, there was Mr. Smith waiting for me.
“Hey Ed, follow me, I want to show you something.”
Out the door I followed my old friend and associate to the north-west section of the Memorial garden. We chatted as we strolled in the warm, late-winter sunshine and as we arrived at the destination of our little tour, standing before me was a beautiful blue spruce. I thought for a moment or two about this tree. I remembered it being much smaller (when this section of the garden was planted in 2008) and tried to think of how I had missed giving it much notice since that time.
The tree was gorgeous! I looked at my host and simply said, “Wow.”
“I know” he replied.
We both stood there for a minute or two and I finally mentioned how I hadn’t realized what a pretty form this new cultivar would mature into when it was first planted those eight years ago.
“Me too” he said with a big smile. “We don’t have a whole lot of these sold, or even available yet, but I think we need to let people know about this one!”
He assured me that there will be some plants landing in independent garden centers all across the country this spring, but it will be a few years before they have a large inventory. My thoughts went immediately to whether or not they might have one available to spare for an old friend of the nursery since this beautiful tree would fit perfectly into my new garden!
Picea engelmannii ‘Fritsche’ is a very lovely cultivar of the Engelmann Spruce. Its blue foliage rivals the color of many other Colorado Blue spruce selections. With its symmetrical, broad upright habit, its full, attractive form, great color and superb cold hardiness, it will be a winning choice for many areas of the USA and Europe.
I really love the way its lateral branchlets fall downward from the main branches creating a fully-clothed effect. I especially look forward to seeing the tree mature in the decades to come.
Now, how am I going to talk them out of a small one for my new garden?….